[Plura-list] Dystopia as clickbait; Trail of Mars; Bride of Frankenstein and the Monster

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Oct 15 14:18:42 EDT 2020


Tonight's Attack Surface Lecture: ​​Intersectionality: Race,
Surveillance, and Tech and Its History with Malkia Cyril and Meredith


Full schedule:


Today's links

* Dystopia as clickbait: Chris Brown on uncozy apocalypses.

* Trail of Mars: New, lyrically gifted science fictional music from John

* Bride of Frankenstein and the Monster: New, limited Brian Ewing prints
for Hallowe'en 2020.

* The Passenger Pigeon Manifesto: "Liberate and upload all digitised
photographs and artworks."

* Bricked Ferrari: DRM and the accommodation of corner-cases.

* The Dennis Ball Show: Dad jokes and Haunted Mansion trivia with djBC's

* This day in history: None

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🚨 Dystopia as clickbait

Writing on tor.com, Christopher Brown proposes that dystopian narratives
are a form of clickbait: as the "boundary between dystopian fiction and
the evening news" blurs, dystopian narratives become political ads.


When the NRA wants to scare old white people, they run ads that look
movies adapted from  the "second civil war" novels that emerged after
2016, amping up the underlying message of dystopia: to "excuse or
encourage our failure to take agency over our own futures."

Brown is a dystopian novelist himself; his recent novel FAILED STATE
revisits a world in peril that he documented in two previous novels that
blended authoritarian rule and ecological collapse, and finds
tantalyzing glimmers of hope.


Brown draws a distinction between dystopian sf ("a useful tool to
shatter exceptionalist myths and amplify what’s wrong with the world")
and weaponized dystopia: "distorts the truth, achieving an effect like
those chumbox ads that stroke our darkest fears").

Dystopian sf is especially powerful "when the whole world seems unable
to get a handle on what tomorrow will bring" and it is most powerful
"when it births a vision of utopian possibility."

("Fighting the Empire is great, but what comes after the Ewok party?")

"As pandemic compounds political uncertainty and climate angst to
further confound our ability to get a bead on the present, SF has an
opportunity to provide fresh visions of what lies on the other side,
help us stop doomscrolling through this dystopian Groundhog Day."

Chris is joining me and Bruce Sterling (who also gets cited in his
article) for a event as part of the tour for my new novel ATTACK SURFACE
on Oct 19 to discuss "cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk."



🚨 Trail of Mars

I first encountered John McDaid through "Uncle Buddy's Funhouse," his
1993 ground-breaking, award-winning hypertext project - one of the first
CD ROMs written up in the NY Times. It was such an exciting, original,
weird and artistically satisfying piece, especially the music.

Later, John and I became writing colleagues, attending workshops
together, and then friends - for decades now. His work remains weird,
erudite, accessible, madcap and brilliant.

He's just released a new album of filk/folk music: "Trail Of Mars,"
recorded during the plague months with an all-star set of session
musicians whom John was able to contract with thanks to the
unprecedented drought in musical work.


The music is both fun to listen to and (obviously) brilliantly performed
and mixed, but the standout here is McDaid's lyrics - superb, funny,
weird and unexpected poetry in the mode of a Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan
in Subterranean Homesick Blues mode.

The top single on the album is "Lost in Translation," a track I listened
to three times in a row and have been thinking about ever since:


The album is $12 on Bandcamp, DRM-free, with a 16-page booklet including
lyrics and notes. McDaid is a wild man of enormous and varied talents.
Highly recommended.


🚨 Bride of Frankenstein and the Monster

Of all the artwork hanging on the walls of my home, one of my favorites
is Brian Ewing's incredible rendering of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of
Frankenstein; it's part of a series of remixes he did of the classic
Universal monster gang.

Periodically, Ewing will do something fresh with his design and reissue
it - spot color, moire patterns, etc. They're universally great, and
they always sell out quick.

Today, Ewing's list informed me that he's got new Hallowe'en variants
coming of both the Monster and the Bride in runs of 50, with a
foil-embossed variant, at $50 & $75 per:


I'm very happy with the version I have, but man, these are tempting!


🚨 The Passenger Pigeon Manifesto

In 2014, I gave a keynote at Museums and the Web on the suicide-mission
of cultural institutions that had decided to sacrifice access - making
their collections as broadly available as possible - for revenues
(selling licenses to rich people).


I argued that  rich people didn't want museums, they wanted to own the
things the museums had in their collections; so if museums eschewed
universal access to get crumbs from plutes, they'd end up with rich
people slavering to dismantle them and no public to help them resist.

Now,  a group of professionals and institutions from the galleries,
libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector have published the
"Passenger Pigeon Manifesto," in which they eloquently make the same point.


"Preservation, the goal of cultural institutions, means ensuring not
only the existence of but the access to historical materials. It is the
opposite of owning: it’s sustainable sharing. Similarly, conservation is
not capturing and caging but ensuring the freedom to live."

Here are their demands:

I. Cultural institutions should reflect on and rethink their roles in
relation to access: "Without free, public access, these items will only
be objects to be forgotten"

II. Physical preservation is not enough: "To ensure the longevity of
digital items, the existence of the highest possible number of copies is
required: this can be achieved by sharing through free access."

III. Beyond preservation and providing access, institutions need to
communicate the existence and content of their collections, our cultural
heritage: "Approachability and good communication is crucial in reaching

IV. Publicly funded institutions must not be transformed by the market
logic of neoliberalism: "Allow cultural commodities to be archived,
described and shared in the frameworks of open access and open science"

V. Liberate and upload all digitised photographs and artworks that are
in the public domain or whose copyrights are owned by public
institutions: "open by default, closed by exception" (exceptions largely
related to respect for indigenous cultures)

VI. All collections should be searchable and accessible in an
international, digital photo repository: "the ideal candidate for an
independent, central imagebase that provides the widest possible reach
is Wikimedia Commons"

100% to all of this. Cultural institutions are about to be HAMMERED by
austerity. The 1% are slavering at the thought of looting them and
transferring their contents to superyachts and luxury bunkers.




🚨 Bricked Ferrari

DRM is a system for prohibiting legal conduct that manufacturers and
their shareholders don't like.

Laws like the US DMCA 1201 (and its equivalents all over the world) ban
tampering with DRM, even if no copyright infringement takes place.

That means that manufacturers can design products so that doing things
that displease them requires bypassing DRM, and thus committing a
felony. It amounts to "felony contempt of business model."

The expansive language of DRM law makes it a crime to break DRM, to tell
people how to break DRM, to point out defects in DRM (including defects
that make products unsafe to use), or to traffick in DRM-breaking tools.

Beyond mere profiteering, though, DRM has more insidious consequences:
it creates a world where using objects in ways that suit you can be a
literal crime, even if those uses have NO impact on the company's bottom

For example, EME is a video encryption standard approved by the W3C. It
has many accessibility tools built in, but only those that manufacturers
and committee-members thought people with disabilities needed.

If your disability isn't on the list, you can't adapt video without
risking felony prosecution (there was a popular proposal to legally
require the companies that made the standard promise not to attack
people with disabilities for doing this, but they rejected it).

So if you have photosensitive epilepsy, you can't write (or pay someone
to write) a filter that looks ahead in video-streams for
seizure-triggering effects and block them. You can beg the companies to
do this, but you can't do it yourself.

"Legitimate things that the designers didn't anticipate" is an expansive
category! For example, Medtronic is one of the largest med-tech
companies in the world (thanks to a series of mergers that also allowed
it to dodge its taxes).

Despite having been founded as an independent med-tech repair shop, the
company is waging bitter war against independent service, so that
hospitals must pay its - high-priced - technicians to service their

Medtronic's PB840 ventilators are the most common ventilators in the
world. The pandemic has spiked demand for PB840s even as it has grounded
Medtronic's authorized technicians and busted the supply-chain of
official parts.

Independent techs are doing life-saving work fixing PB840s, scavenging
parts from multiple units. To do this, they have to risk five-year
prison sentences, using black-market DRM-breaking tools made by a lone
Polish hacker and sent around the world.


There are so many contingencies that design teams can *never*
anticipate, and there are also some that they *should* anticipate. The
omissions and blind-spots of companies are bad enough, but when
correcting them is a felony, it gets really stupid and ugly.

No one is immune. Consider this tale by Redditor Zeromindz, about a
wealthy Ferrari owner whose car-seat installation bricked a performance car.


The car was designed to lock the engine if it detected "tampering" and
the only way to unlock it afterwards was via the car's built-in cellular
modem. However, the work was being done in an underground garage where
there was no cell service.

A Ferrari technician flew in, but couldn't fix the $500,000 car.
Eventually they managed to release the brake and a team of workers
pushed the car up the ramps and into range.


But then they discovered that some part of all that work had permanently
bricked the car. It had to be hoisted onto a flatbed and returned to the


This is darkly comic, to be sure, but it's also a reminder of the
dangers of allowing companies to create an
everything-not-forbidden-is-mandatory system for their products.

Under normal market conditions, some enterprising soul would be making
and selling "Ferrari unbricking devices" and mechanics would keep one in
a drawer, just in case. Instead, a company's war for excess profits
becomes a war on unexpected customer situations.

There's a saying: "If you're not paying for the product, you're the
product." That's wrong. Someone paid $500k for this product. Their
ability to use it as they see fit is *still* contingent on the
forbearance of a multinational corporation.

Better to say: "If a company can make you the product, you are the
product." If monopolies or DRM-law (which creates and reinforces
monopoly) can force you to arrange your affairs to benefit them, not
you, they will.

That, after all, is the ultimate grift - the *legal* grift. The con that
says that you are a lawless cur for having the temerity to have pockets
full of money that, legally speaking, the grifter should have.


🚨 The Dennis Ball Show

A great hero of the copyright wars is djBC, AKA Bob Cronin, creator of
the amazing groundbreaking Beastles mashups, a virtuosic combination of
the Beastie Boys and The Beatles:


Cronin's new project is VERY different. He's hosting a Youtube channel
starring a dad-joke-cracking tennis-ball puppet called The Dennis Ball Show.

We recorded an episode last month that was nominally about my new book
but swiftly became a discussion of the Haunted Mansion.


In fact, we talked for so long that we shot past his self-imposed length
cap and so the signature Dad Joke segment was relegated to a second,
short coda episode:


It's 2020. Everything is terrible and on fire. But the world still
turns, and remains full of extraordinary things, like a chance to talk
to a tennis-ball puppet wielded by an illegal art pioneer about
history's greatest dark-ride followed by hot lashings of dad jokes.


🚨 This day in history


🚨 Colophon

Today's top sources: Adam Harangozo.	

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 566 words (72876

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

* Milehicon (Guest of Honor!), Oct 23-5, https://milehicon.org/

* Coding Democracy/Toronto International Festival of Authors, Oct 24

Recent appearances:

* Judge John Hodgman: "The Doctorow Doctrine"

* Savage Lovecast

* Trashfuture: Stolen Likes Acknowledgment

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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